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Curmudgeon Notes 11.06.2013

By Ben L. Kaufman · November 6th, 2013 · Curmudgeon Notes
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The Student Press Law Center reports on high school student reporters in Cleveland uncovering a big story: “When two high school students walked into their local police station and asked to see a public record, they were given what one of them called ‘the runaround.’ But they stuck it through ’til the end, and that end was a scoop that later ended up on TV and radio stations across Cleveland.

“One day before that visit, Shaker Heights High School had notified students of an assault inside its Shaker Heights, Ohio, campus. The police report showed the incident was more serious though, something school administrators said they did not know.” 

The law center said the student paper’s volunteer adviser, Emily Grannis, who also is a Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press fellow, talked with student editor John Vodrey on the phone while he was in the station. That helped Vodrey cite appropriate state statute and legal language to ask for an incident report. She later told the law center that a supervisor eventually handed over the police report.

The law center quoted Vodrey, an editor of the student newspaper, The Shakerite, as saying, “They found out through our reporting that it was actually more than that.” Vodrey and another editor, Shane McKeon, reportedly obtained a police report that identified the incident as a rape, leading to further media coverage.  

• Here’s what seems to be a perfect local complement to an international news story: Chemical weapons are stored down the pike in Richmond, Ky., where the Pentagon also has a program for destroying those weapons. Or think of it this way: How difficult is it to store and destroy chemical weapons, here or in Syria?

• Speaking of chemical weapons, do you remember campus cop John Pike spraying seated students during a 2011 demonstration at the University of California Davis? The orange pepper spray clearly dominates the video and still photos. 

Well, those images were seen around the world. Rushing into crisis mode, administrators at UC Davis fired Pike after the public relations disaster even though an internal investigation said he acted appropriately.

Blame the news media.

More recently, UC Davis agreed to Pike’s worker’s compensation claim for depression and anxiety caused by death threats. He got $38,059. Blame the news media. By then, UC Davis also paid about $1 million to Pike’s victims: $30,000 each plus $250,000 attorney fees. Those damn media, always trying to make cops and university officials look bad. 

• Major news media made a big deal of Saudi women defying tradition and law by driving themselves, rather than riding with an acceptable male driver. Women who long have been driving themselves tell their story on saudigazette.com.sa or english.alarabiya.net. The women drive because of necessity and their fathers and/or husbands approve or, at least, accept the practical reality. 

Poynter.org reports that The Los Angeles Times will no longer publish letters from climate change deniers. It quotes Times letters editor Paul Thornton, who explained, “I do my best to keep errors of fact off the letters page; when one does run, a correction is published. … Saying ‘there’s no sign humans have caused climate change’ is not stating an opinion, it’s asserting a factual inaccuracy.” 

Poynter adds, “In the scientific community, the debate about anthropogenic global warming has been over for decades. The scientific consensus on climate change is as strong as the consensus on human evolution or the link between smoking and cancer. The L.A. Times imposed no similar limit on online comments — Thornton’s explanation was followed by comments, many by people who don’t believe that humans cause climate change.”

I’d be happy if editors of letters extended this kind of judgment to every letter on any subject asserting facts that can be checked. There might be no false opinion, but there can be assertions of facts that aren’t true. 

• Dailies resist name changes. At best, they become like the Star Tribune when the Minneapolis papers merged, or the Cincinnati Post, which was the Cincinnati Post and Times-Star when I came to town. Sometimes, a new owner needs to prove something and fiddles with the name. That’s what happened to my former paper, The Zambia Times in Central Africa. It became the Times of Zambia

I was reminded of all of this when the International Herald Tribune died and was resurrected the next day as the International New York TimesThe New York Herald Tribune — at its death one of the classiest American dailies — succumbed to competition in 1966. 

However, its Paris edition, the Paris Herald, survived under new owners. One, the New York Times, decided its world brand needed consistency, so the Paris edition changed its name this month. Serge Schmemann — editorial page editor of the Paris paper — wrote a wonderful obit for the Herald Trib. It’s online at the New York Times web site. 

It was a shock in a way. The Herald Trib was the best English-language paper in Europe. It was the hometown paper of expats in Paris, but while often local, it never was parochial. You could stay in touch with the States as well as the wider world even if you didn’t care about Parisian bakeries. 

At the Rome Daily American — which rose and fell under successive owners — we complimented ourselves as the Mediterranean complement to the Herald Trib. 

Of course, that was hubris, but what’s un-Roman about that? 



CONTACT BEN L. KAUFMAN: letters@citybeat.com



 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
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